People: Why Leroy created Dhiira ‘out of necessity’ to humanise HR

Leroy Wilkinson-Maher is on a mission to change the way business leaders think about HR, inclusion and diversity. Having worked in a range of different businesses, he saw first-hand the gap between what was being said and what was being done on the issue of diversity and inclusion.

From these realisations and a drive to act, Leroy started his own business ‘out of necessity’. Here, he shares the journey so far, and why he is so passionate about creating truly inclusive workplaces.

  • What drove you to build Dhiira?

Dhiira was born out of necessity. From my experience working in both corporate and Aboriginal organisations, I saw a stark difference in the intrinsic nature of human resources, what HR represented and how HR was delivered, strategised and executed.

I saw all elements of HR – from advertising and recruitment to policy and performance management – having a completely different ethos. The ‘humanility’ was paramount in Aboriginal Organisations, where they were human first and solutions focused. Meanwhile, HR in corporate organisations were attempting to be human-centric and actually systematically a practising control methodology – ‘How do we place boundaries around our staff as to how they act, be and do whilst representing our organisation?’

This was interesting to me, and being a head of People and Culture, using my experience in both types of businesses I saw an opportunity for HR across organisations to explore the ‘humanility’ once more and question, ‘How do we dismantle the system of control to make it one of true inclusion?’ I come with a First Nations lens but this opens the door and the thought leadership opportunities for other groups of people, be that religious, ethnicity, cultural, LGBTQI+ and much more.

This is the starting point to explore how we value our people as the most integral part of any business. Without your operators you cannot deliver.

Our vision is ‘Humanising HR through Culture’.

  • What have been your biggest challenges in building Dhiira in the last few months, and how do you intend to tackle those challenges?

Dhiira is merely 7 months old. I was fortunate enough to get into the MURRA Indigenous Business Masterclass through Melbourne University and the Melbourne Business School. The prestigious program not only taught me critical business skills delivered in a way that was relevant to me as an Aboriginal man, but also gave me the networks and the collective I became a part of. These people became my brains trust. These people had lived experience in business where I had not.

Without talking on the COVID-19 and global economic impacts of this as this situation is still developing daily, I am not allowing myself to fall into the mindset of fear and anxiety but one of hope and perseverance. My culture is resilient. Survivors and I will survive this.

The main challenge I am facing is forging a new lane for this discussion. This will take time just as it did for Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP) and Cultural Awareness/Capacity Training did for those items now to be regular actions for businesses of all sizes.

There are other organisations out there dabbling in this space. However, collectively we have the challenge of bringing the importance of how HR contributes to ‘cultural safety’ inside businesses and allow businesses to have greater outcomes under their Aboriginal Employment Strategies or targets to make a true social impact whilst reaping the rewards of a happy and culturally diverse workforce.

  • Why are you passionate about Aboriginal engagement and employment? 

I am passionate about Aboriginal Employment firstly as I am a product of Aboriginal Employment Programs. At the age of 15, I was presented with an opportunity by the Aboriginal Employment Strategy (AES).

They came to be when I was in Year 10 and said, ‘Who wants to work at the Commonwealth Bank as a trainee?’

As I was finding ways to spread my wings and gain my independence to alleviate the burden of my financial needs on my family, I asked, ‘Will I make money?’

I also had a goal for myself. As the oldest of a generation I have an obligation to lead by example, to work hard to show my brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews what they too can achieve. This has always been my goal in life and in my career to be a leader, to show what is possible, what can be achieved through perseverance and a dream.

I see Employment as one of the main interjection points on deciding where my life is going and how I am going to spend my time. Employment provides purpose (in most cases), how I am contributing to an overall goal, vision or how am I on the journey with my employer. This comes with the other rewards – the skills you learn, the money you make, the people you meet and the satisfaction you find in self when you accomplish.

Aboriginal Employment is one measure to not only contribute to our communities in hopes to right wrongs that have affected our people over generations but also starts the conversation for how we work together to a brighter future. This will take time. However if you get the opportunity to work next to someone who is profoundly different to you, be that cultural, religious etc. you have an opportunity to learn, to disrupt your own experiential learning to learn about people, about humans.

This is why I LOVE this space; I get to see people being exposed to NEW.

  • In your view, what are businesses most commonly getting right and wrong about Aboriginal engagement? 

If I was to drill down on one fundamental thing I see all the time it is this: The right intention cannot produce real change without the right components.

You can write a strategy, be on a mission for social change however you CANNOT execute without engaging Aboriginal People in your narrative, your strategic development or your execution. Stop undervaluing the cost of engagement, the importance of having the people at your table who can inform you from their perspective, rather than taking your assumptive view of what this may look like.

We need to take one thought in this: ‘We need to do WITH not TO’.

Without being an Aboriginal Person, without the genuine experiences, learnings and ways of being, you will not produce innovation and legacy linked outcomes under your strategies. You need to invest in the right resources to make this work.

  • Looking at the year ahead, what’s your advice to business leaders on effective HR practices?

Now more than ever my advice is simple, in these times we are seeing the emergence of the humanility in all of us being brought to the forefront. Whilst we are facing one of the most challenging times in recent history I have seen both great and terrible human behaviour, however remember to be human, in the way you think, in the way you interact, in the way you lead.

When we return to normality, and it will happen, we need to carry the lessons of the past with us, what we saw, how we felt, and your employees will be looking for human leadership.

Join us on the movement to humanise human resources through a first nations lens and capitalise on the potential of your people through a workplace that shines all different colours.


About the expert

Leroy is a Worimi and Ngarrindjeri man born in Taree, regional New South Wales, and having spent the majority of his life in Newcastle, New South Wales, Leroy is a young Aboriginal leader that has a passion for innovation and positive change.

Leroy has had a successful Executive Leadership career in the Aboriginal Not-For-Profit Employment sector with a background in Banking and Finance.

Leroy is the Founder and Managing Director of Dhiira Pty Ltd, an Aboriginal Consultancy Business focussing on bringing true inclusion into the HR realm through ‘Aboriginal HR’, Humanising business through Culture. With Leroy’s lens on the world being one of opportunity not challenge or obstacle he is forging a new lane.

Leroy is an innovator, a creative, a fresh thinker, non-conventional, far too energetic, does not have an ‘inside voice’ and is on a mission to change the game and flip the script.